Buddhism Has Many Annual Layers Like A Big Tree
One-Day Sesshin Evening Lecture
Saturday, December 11, 1965, Lecture B
Sokoji, San Francisco
It was published in the Wind Bell, 1966, 5(3), which gave the date as Dec. 11, 1965.
File name: 65-12-11-B: Buddhism has many annual layers like a big tree
Verbatim transcript by WP and PF, 07/22
Note 1 - World War II internment camp.
Note 2 - The Kamakura period ran between 1185-1333
Buddhism has many annual year layers like big trees. And traditionally we respect those effort which our patriarchs did for more than two thousands of years. We have made a great effort to develop Buddha's way. And this point is very, very important for Buddhism as a religion. Without this point, without the appreciation of the effort our patriarchs did, it is difficult to have religious feeling in Buddhism.
This temple is—was started six—1964 [actually 1934]. At that time there were not many priests in America, and founder himself worked very hard and collected the donation and bought this building. But he couldn’t pay for—pay for it completely. Part of the expense was borrowed from bank. And after that, Japanese members year after year they paid for this building. Even when they were in camp (note 1) at wartime, they collected the money in the camp and pay the mortgage. This was—they were very proud of the effort which they did in the camp. But if you compare their effort to the—to our ancestors’ effort —India, China, and Japan, and patriarchs’ effort who devoted to this teaching, it—it is nothing. That is why Zen was polished up in this way. So even though—even one line of a gatha or scripture is the result of their actual effort. That is not just teaching. They wrote it by their blood. So, we should not forget this point, and we should continue this effort forever, generation after generation. Wherever we are—we must continue this effort. This is our responsibility as a Buddhist.
I said this morning—this afternoon, it is necessary to have some aim in our life. The supreme aim for—as a Buddhist is to be a successor of our ancestors, to be a successor of the patriarchs. That is the most important point. Or else you are studying Buddhism from outside. You are always outsider. For outsiders Buddhism is nothing. When you accept it as your own and when you try to develop it as your own, then Buddhism has tremendous meaning to us.
It may be difficult for you to understand what kind of life our patriarchs had. And those stories and those historical events are not translated into English so much. But I think it is the most important point if you want to study Buddhism. Intellectual study is of course necessary; especially intellectually patriarchs made a great effort. Sometimes they studied Buddhism intellectually. Until—even though they [were] called—they were treated as a heretic, they studied completely from just pure intellectual point. They did not ignore the smallest logical point of Buddhism. And they—they rebuilt—sometimes they rebuilt, the historical tools or they taught, but there was a reason why they did it. And why they did it was also intellectually understood by all the Buddhists.
For instance, our lineage, they are—historically they are some doubt in our lineage from Buddha to us. Especially before Bodhidharma, they are some doubt. Everyone knows that is not historically true. But even though on—what was name of the patriarchs is not historically true, but Buddhism should be carried out in that way. And actually, Buddhism was carried on, transmitted, or was told one to the other. If so, what is written is not exactly right—right, but the fact that the teaching was transmitted in that way, and spirit—spirit of teaching in that way. In this way there is—there are many historical untruths or scientific untruths in Buddhism, but we—Buddhist knows scientific study is not perfect. There are limit in scientific truth.
And artistic expression of the teaching also is not perfect. But in art, too, that which was painted is more real than actual existence [laughs]. So, it is same thing with our teaching. Our teaching is more human than [laughs] actual human being. So, some precepts is— or most of precepts is very difficult to follow. But the precepts which is—which are difficult to observe appeals more directly to us, and encourage us more, and help us more, than to observe some rules, worldly rules which is possible to observe.
The rules, if you do not observe it, you will be punished [laughs]. Because of the punishment the—all the rules or law are possible to be observed. But the point is to observe, and why we should observe is not for ourselves but for others. Not so dis—not to disturb others, we have [laughs] to observe it. It protect rather someone rather than yourself. That is the nature of law, usual law. But our precepts are for ourselves, not for others [laughs]. It will pre—protect you yourself. And it will encourage you. And it will appease your inmost request. That is why we have precepts. The precepts—although precepts is not—looks like unreal, looks like idealistic—looks like too idealistic, but actually it is more practical for human being. And it—those precepts were created by our effort. So, without this kind of understanding you cannot understand what is Buddhism. You cannot treat Buddhism—Buddhist precepts as you treat the law of the country.
What we do or practice here looks like very impractical, to spend all day [laughs] just in sitting on your cushion. This is big [laughs] waste of time [laughs]. Most un—un-practical thing. But if you understand your me-— you yourself, you will understand why you practice zazen. The necessity is within yourself — necessity of the precepts is in yourself, not outside of yourself. And we ob-—try to observe strict precepts for ourselves, not for others at all.
So, for the advanced student—advanced student, we have more and more strict—strict precepts. The one—the last precepts we recite, it’s the “don’t ignore, or don’t be blasphemous about the teaching.” This is the last one. People who will be critical to the teaching is pretty advanced student [laughs]. So, for such student we give very, very strict punishment [laughs], because of love. He will not like candy anyway. He will like strict discussion about the teaching. And the punishment accordingly should be very strict. While if you kill someone or something, some animal, the punishment will not be so bad [laughs]. They are good enough to punish [laughs]. But we do not encourage [laughs] to kill [laughs]. But they’re not so good. But the people who become critical to the teaching, we punish him very strictly. And at the same time, to punish him is very difficult [laughs]. Not so easy [laughs]. This is the nature of our spiritual precepts.
Zazen is very difficult, everyone knows. And you cannot practice it completely. But we should not give up [laughs]. When you give up, you are not human being anymore. As long as we are human being, we should not give up. We have not reason why [laughs] I—we should practice it. Before you realize the necessity of, need of practice, you will ignore it. But your practice bring out various necessity, why you should practice. And that necessity will drive you—sincere practice. In this way, our practice will be polished up. And at the same time, our everyday life will be polished up, refined.
So, in this way, Japanese culture was polished, or have been polished. Before Buddhism come, Japanese people are very optimistic people. They have no idea of sin, or they have no darkness in their life. They are very optimistic people. But when—after Buddhism was introduced into—to Japan, people became more and more [laughs, laughter] pessimistic! They have to think more [laughs], and they have to reflect [laughs] on themselves more. Before they thought, “We are doing everything right,” [laughs] but it was not so. So, Prince Shotoku set up the constitution of Japan, and he said, “It is necessary to correct, to improve our characters. If you—we want to improve our character, it is necessary to study Buddhism. Without respect of Triple Treasures—Dharma, Sangha—Dharma—Buddha, Dharma, Sangha—Triple Treasures, how is it possible to reform our character?” In his—in his constitution he said, he declared so. And in this way, we became more and more reflective. And we are concentrated to work inwardly, instead of just outward effort. Maybe before [after] Zen Buddhism come, we are too pessimistic—we became too pessimistic.
And Buddhism—Zen Buddhism was very practical, although it is more strict and more simple, but it was practical. The pessimistic people in old time tried to make some compensation by their elaborate effort, building beautiful temples or making priests’ robe by lotus thread or making thousands of stupa. In this way they wanted to—they practice repentance, but still that—their sincerity will be appreciated—should be appreciated fully, but their way is too elaborate, and their way was not practical enough.
So—but Zen, was very simple, and the teaching is very direct and to the point. So, Buddhism, Zen Buddhism was accepted completely by—after—by people after Kamakura period (note 2). But even so, our effort is concentrated mainly inward. Even though they were fighting with each other, they did not forget to practice Zen and to make some effort to reform our characters. And we respected the leader of that time, who is more reflective and kind and sincere, not only powerful but also they have to be generous, and they have to have good understanding of Buddhism, and they have to respect royal families. And we have many national treasures owned by the influential people or general at that time.
In this way, Zen was developed. So even though busy a country as America—like America—there must be some—we should spend some time in this kind of practice. And I think we should have more composure in our life and we should respect our tradition, both Buddhist tradition and Christian tradition.
Thank you very much
Will you just stand up, and bow to Buddha in your standing posture?